Is steam or air really viable?

HomeBuiltAirplanes.com

Help Support HomeBuiltAirplanes.com:

Aerowerx

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 1, 2011
Messages
5,531
Location
Marion, Ohio
There was a recent post on a steam powered aircraft from the 1930s. And another recent one on miniature air powered engines.

I was just wondering, with modern technology, is either one really viable as an aircraft engine?

For air, you would need a large pressure tank in order to get any range at all. And a way to fill it if you are away from your home base. Or a compressor on board and some way to power that.

For steam, you need a boiler and a water supply. And fuel for the boiler.

Seems to me that neither would be any where as near efficient as a good ole' IC engine running on av gas. The only advantage I see is that the engine itself could be lighter because you would not have to deal with the N explosions every revolution, with resulting heat and pressures.

By the way, the Tucker automobile comes to mind. If I recall correctly, it was air powered with a small gas powered compressor in the trunk. I don't know how well that would work when scaled up for aircraft use.
 

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2013
Messages
11,048
Location
97FL, Florida, USA
There was a long thread several years ago where we beat to death the concept of a steam powered airplane.


BJC
 

wsimpso1

Super Moderator
Staff member
Log Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2003
Messages
6,688
Location
Saline Michigan
There was a recent post on a steam powered aircraft from the 1930s. And another recent one on miniature air powered engines.

I was just wondering, with modern technology, is either one really viable as an aircraft engine?

For air, you would need a large pressure tank in order to get any range at all. And a way to fill it if you are away from your home base. Or a compressor on board and some way to power that.

For steam, you need a boiler and a water supply. And fuel for the boiler.

Seems to me that neither would be any where as near efficient as a good ole' IC engine running on av gas. The only advantage I see is that the engine itself could be lighter because you would not have to deal with the N explosions every revolution, with resulting heat and pressures.

By the way, the Tucker automobile comes to mind. If I recall correctly, it was air powered with a small gas powered compressor in the trunk. I don't know how well that would work when scaled up for aircraft use.
The Tucker had a Franklin engine... Energy density of compressed air makes batteries look good. Steam is heavy and bulky per hp and maintenance intensive.
 

jedi

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 8, 2009
Messages
2,078
Location
Sahuarita Arizona, Renton Washington, USA
I have looked at steam several times and it doesn't work.
Ah! but did you forget the flat earth steam rocked guy that successfully built and flew a steam rocket. Don't underestimate the odd ball ideas. There is always a corner where they might have an advantage.

His rocked did not catch fire and explode! But then sometimes a guy just gets lucky.
 

Dan Thomas

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 17, 2008
Messages
5,274
The Tucker had a Franklin engine... Energy density of compressed air makes batteries look good. Steam is heavy and bulky per hp and maintenance intensive.
Yup. My air tools are driven by my little 1-HP compressor and it can't keep up to a 1/4" air drill or die grinder. If I had a one-horse electric drill or die grinder I'd have really powerful tools and there'd be no waiting for the compressor to catch up.

Compressing air is an inefficient means of storing energy. The losses to heat are huge.
 

mm4440

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2012
Messages
189
Location
LA area, CA
Hi I met Bill Besler at Oshkosh some years ago. His steam powered Travelair is the only successful steam powered man carrying airplane I know of. Steam powered lighter-than-aircraft flew in the 1800's. I believe the rated power of the Besler was 150 hp and its weight/hp was 4.25 #/ hp which may still be a record low. Maxim's steam powered pre-Wright flight attempt's steam power plant was about 4.5#/hp. Some of the car and truck companies have experimented with Rankin/steam bottoming cycles to improve efficiency. There are gas fired combined cycle power plants producing electricity at over 60 percent efficiency by combining a gas turbine and a steam turbine running on the exhaust heat of the gas turbine.
 

BBerson

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
13,083
Location
Port Townsend WA
Flash tube boilers are light.
A steam seaplane could dip down and skim fresh water every 10 minutes if needed.
No problem for a fire bomber getting water.
 
Last edited:

proppastie

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Feb 19, 2012
Messages
4,513
Location
NJ
For the Aluminum Dragon....powered launch glider,... the 15# ICE model aircraft engine is not the easiest to start but it is an economical purchase and totally off the shelf including the propeller. .....More money for an electric with batteries might need more weight for a 5 minute launch but would be easy to start and re-start in the air. A total loss steam or air system would need lots of development, and weight is an unknown depending on design....again we are talking a 5 min. launch so it is sort of a special application. The small turbines are off the shelf and easy to start and re-start....but cost a lot for 80-100 lb thrust.
 

Jerry Lytle

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
363
Location
Newport, Oregon
"By the way, the Tucker automobile comes to mind. If I recall correctly, it was air powered with a small gas powered compressor in the trunk. I don't know how well that would work when scaled up for aircraft use."

Already covered but
Tucker used a six cylinder Franklin converted to liquid cooling.

"Car production did not survive, but the name and assets were sold and production of air-cooled engines for commercial and aircraft use was continued by (Aircooled Motors of Syracuse). This company was bought after World War II by Preston Tucker. The flat-six engines were fitted with water-cooling jackets and used in the short lived Tucker automobile. The company was sold again after Tucker was disbanded." Wikipedia
 

Pops

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2013
Messages
8,001
Location
USA.
Parking my 1953 Ford on the street in Pittsburgh, Pa in 1959 there was a different looking car parked behind my car. Was a Tucker. Only one I ever seen.
 

Dan Thomas

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 17, 2008
Messages
5,274
Lycoming built engines for Cord, Auburn and Duesenberg cars from about 1918 to 1937. They didn't look like aircraft engines. Lyc's first aircraft engine was a radial, in 1929.

Continenetal also built engines for vehicles and industrial machinery. My Dad had a 1959 Rambler American that had an inline four Continental with a magneto for ignition. A troublesome beast, that was.
 

Dan Thomas

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 17, 2008
Messages
5,274
Flash tube boilers are light.
A steam seaplane could dip down and skim fresh water every 10 minutes if needed.
No problem for a fire bomber getting water.
Bill Lear's steam engine he was designing for automobiles used "Learium," an unknown fluid that some suspect was a chlorofluorcarbon like Freon. A closed system, of course, and probably a light fluid and a minimal volume of it.
 

Pops

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2013
Messages
8,001
Location
USA.
Lycoming built engines for Cord, Auburn and Duesenberg cars from about 1918 to 1937. They didn't look like aircraft engines. Lyc's first aircraft engine was a radial, in 1929.

Continenetal also built engines for vehicles and industrial machinery. My Dad had a 1959 Rambler American that had an inline four Continental with a magneto for ignition. A troublesome beast, that was.
My 1968 MF farm tractor has a Continental engine. I have drove a 1937 Graham Hollywood. It had a Continental. My father bought a new 1938.
 

BBerson

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
13,083
Location
Port Townsend WA

Sockmonkey

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2014
Messages
1,808
Location
Flint, Mi, USA
Flash tube boilers are light.
A steam seaplane could could dip down and skim fresh water every 10 minutes if needed.
No problem for a fire bomber getting water.
If you're flying over freshwater lakes and rivers you could, (seawater is a huge no-no) but that water still needs to be filtered and purified. Contaminants will build up otherwise.

Steam works far better in cars than planes for two main reasons.
First is obviously the higher acceptable weight limit.
Second is that with the right setup, you can eliminate most of the heavy and complex drivetrain regular cars use. Planes don't have that in the first place so there that advantage is wasted.
Steam pistons are fantastic at delivering instant high torque at low speeds, and many can run backwards if the valves are set up to allow it. That makes it possible to connect the crank straight to the differential with no transmission, driveshaft, or clutch needed.
Using a pair of double-acting pistons in a V-twin arrangement gives the same smooth torque output that you would get from an inline eight-cylinder, and you only need a single-throw crank.
So overall, it's not less complex in that you want a condenser and all the other stuff to make the steam, but the complex bits are at the other end of the line between the fuel tank and the wheels.
 
2
Top